Ask the Nutritionist
If you have a nutrition or diet question or need some advice on eating a healthier diet you can email one of our nutritionists below and receive a personal reply to your question. We will publish a selection of questions and answers on Waitrose.com so have a read of our previously answered questions below before you submit your question. If you can’t find the answer to your question here, or within our Health and nutrition pages, continue with your query.
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Question of the month
Q: I am a vegetarian and I’m worried I’m not getting enough of some key nutrients. How can I make sure I include these in my vegetarian diet?
A: All nutrients needed in the diet can be easily obtained from a vegetarian diet so you shouldn't have to take a supplement. However, it is important that you have a think about some of the nutrients that are mostly found in animal products, to make sure you are not missing out.
Protein - It is important to ensure you consume an alternative protein source. Vegetarian sources include nuts and seeds, pulses (peas, lentils and beans), grains and cereals (such as wheat, barley, rye and oats), eggs, soya and tofu.
Iron – This mineral is needed to transport oxygen around the body. Vegetarian sources include eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, wholegrain cereals and flours, green leafy vegetables, pulses and dried fruits (such as raisins, apricots and figs). Vegetable sources of iron are not as easily absorbed in the body as animal sources, however a good intake of vitamin C with an iron rich meal will enhance absorption. So try to drink a glass of fresh orange juice with your breakfast cereal or squeeze lemon juice onto steamed vegetables.
Vitamin B12 – good sources are found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt and vegetarian cheeses and yeast extract, also foods fortified with B12 such as soya milks, breakfast cereals and vegetable and sunflower spreads.
Vegetarians and vegans can obtain essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6, from linseed oil, rapeseed oil and soya oil. Other sources include walnuts, green leafy vegetables, wholegrain cereals, pumpkin seeds and vegetarian supplements derived from algae. The body cannot use omega 3 derived from plants as efficiently as that obtained from oily fish, so to meet your body’s needs try to include these foods into your daily diet.
Click here for further information about following a vegetarian diet.
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Previously answered questions
A: Lactose is a sugar found in cows, sheep, goats and human milk and an intolerance to it occurs when the body produces insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase. Lactase digests lactose and if the body doesn’t have enough of this enzyme, drinking milk may produce symptoms such as stomach bloating, cramps, wind, constipation or diarrhoea. Milk doesn’t usually need to be cut out of the diet completely but reduced to a level that can be tolerated after a consultation with a G.P or other healthcare professional. As a major source of calcium is being reduced in the diet it is advised to include alternative sources of calcium e.g., fortified soya milk.
Milk allergy is very different to lactose intolerance as milk and milk products should be eliminated from the diet. Some people only react adversely to cows milk and are able to drink both sheeps and goats milk without any symptoms. In these cases, it is generally caused by a reaction to a number of allergens in cows milk such as casein and whey. Children usually grow out of Cows Milk Allergy by the age of 3 years.
A: There are two classes of fibre. One is tough and fibrous and is found in the stalks, skins and leaves of vegetables and fruit as well as the outer coating of grains. This is known as insoluble fibre or 'roughage'. It moves through your intestines largely unchanged but gives bulk to the contents of your gut. This speeds up the time that the contents take to pass through your intestines.
The other type of fibre is best described as being "gum-like" and is found inside fruit and some grains, including porridge oats. It is known as soluble fibre. Soluble fibre tends to help you to feel full after eating and helps to slow down the speed at which food leaves your stomach. This in turn slows the speed at which blood sugar rises after eating. It also has the added advantage of binding cholesterol, this means that eating a diet rich in soluble fibre may potentially help to lower cholesterol.
Ideally, adults should aim for an intake of around 18 grams a day, or even a little more. It is best to increase your fibre intake gradually, because a sudden increase may produce wind, bloating and stomach cramps. Below are some tips to help you increase fibre intake:
- Base your diet on wholegrain starchy foods such as brown rice, brown pasta, wholegrain breads and breakfast cereals.
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. The majority of the fibre in fruits and vegetables is found in the skin, pith and peel. Dried fruits and vegetables are a particularly good source of fibre.
- Reduce your intake of highly refined foods such as white bread and pasta.
Waitrose food products have the amount of fibre listed in grams per portion and/or per 100 grams on the nutritional information panel on packs. Foods that provide 6g or more of fibre per 100g are considered rich or high in fibre.
A: For your wife to increase her iron levels, it is important that she increases her consumption of foods that are rich in iron. Foods rich in iron include red meat, offal such as liver, sardines, eggs, wholemeal bread, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses such as beans, peas and lentils, cashew nuts, dried apricots and dark green leafy vegetables.
Iron is more readily absorbed by the body from animal sources, i.e. red meat and eggs, but absorption of iron from plant sources can be improved by including vitamin C rich foods with them. For example, by drinking orange juice with lunch or squeezing lemon juice over leafy vegetables.
It is useful to note that tannins (found in tea) and phytic acid (found in wheat bran and brown rice) can inhibit the absorption of iron and so it’s better to consume tea and high fibre cereals between meals as opposed to with meals.
A: To make an interesting and healthy picnic you could try using different types of bread for sandwiches such as wholemeal tortilla wraps, pitta bread and rolls. Using a variety of healthy fillings such as roast chicken and salad, tuna and sweetcorn, salmon and cucumber, low fat houmous and red pepper, feta cheese and salad, lean ham or beef and salad can also help make the picnic a little more interesting. You could also try making different types of salad, such as brown pasta with cherry tomatoes, spring onions, peppers, tuna and olives, brown rice with tomatoes, sultanas, kidney beans and a citrus dressing or a potato salad with reduced fat cottage cheese.
Here are some more ideas:
- Egg and cress sandwiches, made with a small amount of mayonnaise on wholemeal bread
- Vegetable sticks and a dip, such as tzatziki, reduced fat houmous or guacamole
- Skinless chicken breast in a wholemeal wrap with salsa and salad
- Lean beef in a wholemeal roll, with mustard and salad
- Wholemeal pitta bread with reduced fat houmous and salad or grated carrot
- Cous cous with herbs, chick peas and mixed vegetables, such as courgettes, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes
- Rice salad with beans, peppers and a lemon and herb dressing
- Pot of low fat yogurt with a portion of mixed fruit and nuts
- Wholemeal wrap with guacamole and salad
- Fresh, tinned and dried fruit
- Portion of flap jack
A: When training for a running event, it is essential to follow a healthy balanced diet, which will help to support the body’s defences. When carrying out endurance exercise it is important to make sure you base your meals on starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes, which provide the majority of our energy. Snacks should be nutritious and energy dense such as dried fruit, nuts, bananas, oat cakes, fresh fruit and yogurt. Choose wholemeal varieties wherever possible as these contain extra fibre keeping us full for longer, which is especially important when living an active lifestyle. You may find it beneficial to eat plenty of carbohydrate rich foods before the event to ensure you have enough glycogen stores in your muscles to keep going. Avoid eating anything within an hour of training though, to avoid developing a stitch.
On the day of your event, you should have a nutritious breakfast such as porridge with dried fruit, and keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water. About an hour before the race begins you may wish to have a light snack such as a banana or a biscuit to keep your blood sugar levels up and throughout the race make use of any drink stations to stay hydrated. You may want to have isotonic drinks to replace some of the minerals lost in sweat and to provide you with more energy to help you finish the race.
Have a look at our archive for more previously answered questions:
- How can I lose weight without being tired all the time?
- Are there any 'natural' foods that would help to reduce high cholesterol levels?
- Does tinned fish in olive oil have a significant nutritional value?
- Is it advisable to eat nine portions of fruit and vegetables each day?
- Do you have any advice on eating during pregnancy?
- Does Waitrose stock any products without purines?
- Does concentrated fruit juice count as one of your five-a-day portions?
- What are the guideline daily amounts on your product labels?
Previously answered questions:
- What is the difference between lactose intolerance and cows milk allergy?
- I have been advised to increase the fibre in my diet. Do you have any advice on how I can achieve this?
- My wife has been advised to increase are Iron intake. Can you recommend the foods she should be eating to help?
- Q: I’m going to a healthy picnic for three people. Can you give me any suggestions?
- Q: I’m training for a half marathon, what should I eat?